ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THE WAR ON DRUGS – OCEAN OF DARKNESS | 2020-12-01

Holy smokes I just can’t get over how breathtakingly perfect, laudably defiant, and effortlessly delivered this sound recording is. To every new song I am reviewing, either you get to Adam Granduciel-level or get the f*** out.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

THE WAR ON DRUGS

LIVE DRUGS

2020, Super High Quality

https://www.thewarondrugs.net/home

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): SMASHING PUMPKINS – CYR | 2020-11-19

What’s interesting about undergoing a premature album review as it pertains to the creative output of alternative rock legends Smashing Pumpkins is that one year one could be serviced with a complete album spanning eight cuts and clocking in at just over half an hour of runtime, whereas another (zany) year one could be serviced with just as many preview teasers for its follow up—which combined clock in at just over half an hour of runtime—and not even reach half of the pre-announced tracklist length for said very album. Just to make head and tails here, in 2018 Billy Corgan and co. unveiled their tenth official studio album Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., comprising eight songs and recorded alongside producer royalty Rick Rubin at his swanky Shangri La studio in Malibu, California. Fast forward to two years and a global pandemic later and we find the American alt rockers announcing their follow-up LP CYR in form of a gnarly and improbable 20-track double album, slated for release on 27th November by Washington D.C. and Los Angeles-based indie imprint Sumerian Records.

Intended both in music and spirit to act as a successor to their previous aforementioned project, serving as the second instalment for the group’s ongoing Shiny and Oh So Bright series, CYR began to be teased during this past summer through a raft of mysterious SP countdown timers across the Interweb, which eventually led to the unboxing of synth-pop Ava Adore-ing lead single/title track “Cyr” (“Tangents vex the whorl / The void arrives then leaves / Returning, returning a kiss / For lovers built the dream“) as well as its attached garage/indie B-side “The Colour of Love“—the latter incidentally doubling as the grand record opener. Predictably, both numbers came with luscious accompanying music videos, which quickly grew to reveal a larger five-part cyber-psych animated series outing dubbed In Ashes, written and created by Billy Corgan himself and set to coincide with the ambitious album roll out. Speaking of which, at the time of writing this amounts to eight individual singles parsed out across four separate release slots, giving lucky and thirsty fans more than the average conventional taster amount ahead of the CYR’s complete unveiling. This brings us full circle to the notion of the present ‘perhaps-not-so-much’ premature evaluation of the full piece de resistance dropping at the end of the month.

Subsequently to the initial solid and convincing two-track combo unleashed at the end of August, SP saw fit to start dropping another double single at the end of September, this time in the guise of the sticky, kooky, and eccentric art-pop of “Confessions of a Dopamine Addict” on its A-side (“I’m down for bewitching trains / And cursed tower / The masts blackened / As windswept / Horizons ever sour / If it takes more to find you / Than setting out a fading sun“), as well as the nocturnal indie-synth sensibilities of the soft and tender “Wrath” on its back. Not content with the existing load, just a few weeks later throughout the month of October the Grammy Awards-winning goths chose to issue an additional two double-single bundles within the span of a couple weeks. Leading the streak was the raspy and gritty guitar-lead of “Anno Satana“—sporting arguably the most gratifying songwriting amongst the ongoing promotional eight-pack—counter-mirroring the more subdued and dejected yet adorable B-side “Birch Grove“. Lastly, and fittingly just in time for Halloween, the angelic and compositionally gelid flairs of alt-ballad “Ramona” graced the world’s airwaves with necessary respite vis-a-vis flip-side “Wyttch“‘s gruesome, abrasive, and bewildering spookiness (with a frightful official music video out on Friday 13th, no less)—marking the last and easily heaviest cut unveiled by the quartet in anticipation to CYR.

Any partial artistic inference made to the full LP on account of not even half of its total track count can’t forego the crucial monition of how—unlike for Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. where Mr Rubin was given creative control of the production steering wheel—this record sees Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan looking after any and all production duties. Nonetheless, and rightfully so considering the ongoing gelling conceptual album series, tracks such as the aforementioned “The Colour of Love”, “Anno Satana”, and “Wyttch” immediately seal a robust sonic continuum with its 2018 predecessor, both in terms of thematic focus and sound delivery. Whether completely intentional or not, one can only assume that at least a portion of that analogue, guitar-led, and driving percussive predicament entrenched in said cuts goes to distill some degree of the band’s true current musical ethos—not a bad thing in and of itself for it’s sounding rad. However, the crispier, cleaner, and glossier new wave synth processing found in flagship singles here, such as the title track, “Wrath”, and “Birch Grove”, hint at a possible return to more lavish late 90s aesthetics, albeit sans the compositional depth seen on Machina/The Machines of God.

While on the subject of studio arrangements and recorded instrumentation inklings, it’s probably worth reiterating that in 2020, aside from the aforementioned singer-honcho Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins is Jimmy Chamberlin on drums, James Iha on lead guitar, and Jeff Schroeder on rhythm guitar—the former two doubling as reverting staples from the legendary original line-up that thrusted the group into international stardom and critical acclaim, back then completed by controversial absentee bassist D’arcy Wretzky. As expected, taping sessions for CYR saw existing members record stems on their respective instruments, whilst aside from synthesizers, additional guitars, vocals, and production duties, Mr Corgan also lied bass guitars to wax for the occasion (additional background vocals, significantly presents on a chunk of the eight promotional singles described above, come courtesy of Sierra Swan and existing Australian touring member Katie Cole). Judging by the hors d’oeuvre SP has served us hitherto, the suite of styles and sounds one is to expect from the full length appears fairly versatile on the ear, ranging from the foreboding distortion of “Wyttch” through to “Birch Grove”‘s culling and sparse caresses, emanating tenderness and endearment from its every musical pore.

With a whole other album’s worth of twelve records off CYR still to be released, and more than half of the projected 72 minutes of runtime left to nothing more than the listeners’ imagination, any definitive appraisal of this album at this point would be reductive at best. Add Mr Corgan’s inherent unpredictability and—for a sincere lack of a better term—creative weirdness on top of the equation, and one soon realises that any judgement bestowed one week away from the album’s street date is as reliable as the next person’s. Truly and honestly though, based off this sample of tracks, CYR does not seem to sport the same oomph, pizazz, compression, and dare I say it even catchiness found throughout Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be stood corrected here once all twenty songs hit the digital streaming shelves and each and every one of these promotional cuts can be savoured within the context of the full conceptual journey, but for as slept-on and underrated the inaugural instalment of the Shiny and Oh So Bright trilogy still is, it’s also proven to have aged robustly well despite—or perhaps precisely because of—being devoid of much promotional bells and whistles fanfare.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

SMASHING PUMPKINS

CYR

2020, Sumerian Records

https://smashingpumpkins.com

LETTER TO BRUCE | 2020-10-31

The below text was originally submitted as part of Bruce Springsteen‘s Letter to Bruce online fan engagement campaign. This is the full published excerpt with no edits or alterations:

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

BLM | 2020-05-31

 

Consider making a financial donation to the following organisations:

NAACP Legal Defense Fund: naacpldf.org

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

Black Voters Matter Fund: blackvotersmatterfund.org

Know Your Rights Camp: knowyourrightscamp.com

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): FAKE NAMES – FAKE NAMES | 2020-05-21

Fortuity, spontaneity, and intuition might not be your conventional attributes used to portray the causational origin behind a significant new supergroup, let alone in nowadays’ hypernormalized times—yet as far as recent Epitaph Records-signees Fake Names are concerned, those might just be the utmost apt ones. The American-Swedish quartet is composed of gargantuan Washington D.C. punk rock mainstays Brian Baker (of Minor Threat and Bad Religion fame) and Michael Hampton (S.O.A., Embrace, One Last Wish), who linked up in 2016 initially simply to jam and mess around with one another, without any thought furthering anything more than that. However, after they swiftly realised that their songwriting process and output yield was appearing to be flowing way more smoothly than expected, they landed on the temptation of putting an actual outfit together. So that’s how they figured they’d call up radical Johnny Temple from Girls Against Boys and Soulside, whom they knew from elementary school, and by their own admission seamlessly fit right in with their passion for what the bassist refers to as “loud, angry, visceral music”. One practice and writing session led to another, and by the end of the year the new formed punk Mount Rushmore enlisted iconic Refused frontman Dennis Lyxzén on rage-fuelled vocal duties, thanks to a serendipitous run-in at the same year’s Riot Fest edition in Chicago.

After a socially-distanced record crafting gestation lasting several years, before social-distancing became trendy and en vogue, the foursome saw fit to drop their self-titled debut LP Fake Names on 8th May—their alias doubling as a nod to both 1987 American crime comedy picture Raising Arizona and the relentless proliferation of false news items and statements, equal courtesy of both FAANG and Donald Trump. Allegedly recorded analogue and directly to tape in New York, and enjoying a little help from their friends Geoff Sanoff (A Perfect Circle, Jawbox) on production and Matt Schulz on drums and percussions performances, Fake Names is a straight-as-an-arrow, concise, and cohesive collection of ten meat-and-potatoes numbers clocking in just shy of half an hour. The album and ancillary band announcement were previewed with the insurrectionary blistering sing-along anthem “Brick“, unveiled to the whole wide world at the end of March in the heat of a full C-19 pandemic mode. The galloping and unnerved stunner barely reaches two minutes of runtime, yet manages to pack in it voracious lyrical content (“Took down the names of everyone in my little red book / Here comes revenge for everything that you ever took / Shots heard all around the world yeah you’re gonna bleed / Ever seen the face of revolution? It looks like me“), fiery distorted guitar play, and an exhilaratingly catchy refrain.

This project’s lead single acquires an even heightened sense of purpose when taken in context with the full track listing, sequenced as it is at number four between album highlight “Being Them“—a superior slice of garage rock-meets-power pop where Lyxzén proves just how he hasn’t skipped a beat when it comes to penning infectious hooks since his early Refused days—and the pensive, reflective tormented croonerisms of “Darkest Days” (“Here we storm into the darkest times / Stole our souls then they drained our minds / An epidemic of stupidity / Let us here left us all to bleed“). Other distilled examples of tracks furthering the self-proclaimed and actively sought-after objective of producing and recording straight to tape, without the help of guitar pedals or any manipulated sound effects (Fake Names go as far as making sure every song on the LP is credited as having “No synthesizers”), are groovy and visceral album opener “All For Sale” as well as its correlated ostracised hymn for the disenfranchised “Heavy Feather“, belonging at number six to the crop of songs on the shorter end of the runtime spectrum.

While both Baker and Hampton provide luscious and compelling backing vocal harmonies to Lyxzén’s biting and soar laments pretty much throughout this whole thing—incidentally lending that poppier flair that so strongly trademarked their previous pivotal scene bands in spite of their abrasive hardcore wrapping—two understated standouts portraying such functional texturing are both “Driver” at number two on the tracklist and the badass “Weight“. The latter so wonderfully underlines the overbearing six-strings chemistry between the two punk legends. In fact, the undeniable magic spellbound by Baker and Hampton and their instrumental dialectic in the studio had the group very aware they were in the midst of witnessing something nothing short of historical—sitting on the decades of influential dues paid by the two guitarists in the American hardcore punk scene. So bassist Temple on this fellow bandmates’ collaboration: “It’s two lead guitar players who really know how to work together, with such an incredibly fluid meshing of their individual styles, and there’s never a moment where they’re competing over who’s playing the catchiest riff. I’ve never seen a hint of anything like that before”.

For better or worse, Fake Names’ conscious decision to refrain from any audio-enhancing techniques employment in delivering their no-frills true blue punk rock directness and pathos does show through in multiple occasions on the full length, at times rendering the overall mix a tad too thin and bare bone for its own good. This can be experienced on the nonetheless adult alternative radio-friendly penultimate cut “This Is Nothing“, doubtlessly one of the lulls on this thing alongside formulaic frenetic LP closer “Lost Cause“, showcasing some of Lyxzén’s most uninspired and underwhelming pen game in recent memory: “Some kind / Some kind of violence / Something sacred something pure / Some kind / Some kind of wonder / Everything we’ve waited for / Hold on / Gotta hold on to this lost cause“. At the same time, it’s not like this back-to-basics sonic mantra is anything new for punk rock, and while the broader heavier music canon struggles to desperately try to re-invent itself via foreign electronic sounds and aimless genre crossovers amidst a wrenching existential crisis that displaced it afar from influential mainstream conversations, to much of critics’ dismay, Fake Names rely on elevating the inherent importance of each tape-tracked instrument, demanding listeners to pay a little bit closer attention to the final master. Not a bad trick for someone conveying not-so-disguised leftist prophecies and anti-capitalist sermons set to enthralling distortion.

It’s exactly this matter-of-factly demeanour and the singular way this music carries itself throughout its 28 minutes that make Lyxzén and co stand out, not only when compared to the overboard and exaggerated fringes of alternative music acts hopelessly engaging in loudness wars today, but also when placed shoulder-to-shoulder with their insular punk rock genre contemporaries. To this end, the Swedish frontman is not shy in highlighting the complete absence of spin doctoring that has driven the band since their inception in 2016: “A lot of times with bands there’s an agenda, and people often have very different ideas on what you need to do to succeed. But with this band there’s no agenda at all: it’s a project completely driven by lust for the music, and the simple fact that we just truly love playing together”. Raging against late stage-capitalism and diminishing returns has never sounded so catchy.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

FAKE NAMES

FAKE NAMES

2020, Epitaph

http://epitaph.com/artists/fake-names

87732_FakeNames.jpg.925x925_q90

A PRELIMINARY INTRODUCTION TO: BRIGITTE LAVERNE | 2020-04-26

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

BRIGITTE LAVERNE

DISCO CHINA

2019, Brigitte Laverne

https://www.instagram.com/brigittelaverne/

Disco China_BL

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THE STROKES – THE NEW ABNORMAL | 2020-04-11

It’s Easter where I am so thank God for The Strokes. Thank God for The Strokes and their inexplicable ability to turn trivial guitar riffs I could myself come up with within a few minutes of impromptu jamming into transcendental modern rock classics, assuming a whole form way, way bigger than the mere sum of its parts. After having ventured into a fiercely written iteration of my unfiltered thoughts over their comeback single “At the Door” earlier this year—nota bene in a pre-C-word world—the writing was all over Jean-Michel Basquiat’s wall as far as reprising said cliffhanger with a full-fledged critical appraisal of the New York City Cops-band’s sixth studio album The New Abnormal is concerned—nota bene prophetically titled during a pre-C-word world. You can’t imagine the dash of existential relief that rushed through yours truly’s spine when the garage rock fivesome, alongside pretty much the rest of the global live entertainment industry, decided to cancel and/or postpone everything but their Good Friday slated street date for their first album in more than half a decade (under the influence).

Issued through a joint venture between frontman’s Julian Casablancas’ very own Cult Records label and major Sony Music’s gnarly RCA imprint; fully executive produced by DAW-heavyweight and Malibu radical chic extraordinaire Rick Rubin; overkilled by saturated hype and dead-on-arrival obstructionist skepticism by those who alighted at their sophomore Room on Fire career station—this album was not meant to experience a smooth and lean landing by design. Speaking of which, one cannot but grin and rejoice over the inordinate amounts of raised eyebrows and posh hand gusting that must have occurred among high-brow fine arts cultural milieus in their ivory towers upon realisation that a mainstream popular band managed to successfully license an iconic 1981 Basquiat canvas to serve as their cheapened digital album front cover. This fact alone would warrant a full unpacking dissection of wasted gentrified atelier simpaticos from Los Angeles to Tokyo and everywhere in between, but especially Paris.

Aside from the aforementioned hallucinating epic beaut “At the Door“, the USA East Coast indie boyz saw fit to preview their ominously titled studio full length via two more standalone singles. On 18th February, one week after their lead cut was unleashed, the group unveiled the ingeniously jolly and retro gated reverb-sounding “Bad Decisions” (attached to a larger-than-life music video), a supremely tongue-in-cheek and exaggeratedly self-aware 80s festive sing-a-long borrowing a switched-on interpolation of the supremely tongue-in-cheek and exaggeratedly self-aware 80s festive sing-a-long “Dancing With Myself” by English rock n roll crooner Billy Idol, by doing so awarding the latter handy songwriting credits as well as important claims on future mechanical and performing royalties stemming from the song’s playback. From there nearly another uneventful month had to pass before The Strokes dropped a final juicy and fun album taster with the squeaky and faux-futuristic hymn “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus“, albeit it ending up being the lukewarm lull of the trio of singles, with its superfluous meta-narrative coupled with what comes off as insincere indifference working slightly in its disfavour.

Notwithstanding the regular run-of-the-mill album roll out comprised of the above promo singles, with the band likely bound to surrender to its inevitable execution upon repeated RCA and brand sponsoring nudges, Julian, Albert, Fab, Nick, and Nik chose to pull out all the stops and celebrate The New Abnormal’s landing by throwing a self-described pirate radio show on YouTube. Named 5guys talking about things they know nothing about, at the time of writing the podcast sees its peak on episode two already, as the clique hilariously and dorkily sits through their own album listening party made up of only deep cuts over Zoom conference video calling. Just what we all wanted and needed from the biggest guitar band of the millennium. Deliberate or not, the decision to skip the premiere three songs “people already know” actually bears a wealth of merits in and of itself, for as with most records, their true lasting inherent value is really only found emerging by way of those sets of songs making up the structural yet paramount underbelly of any extended work of art. You ask Basquiat.

The swaggerish and airtightly sanitised album opener “The Adults Are Talking” might go toe to toe with 2006 First Impressions of Earth’s YOLO as their strongest and most showstopping intro tune since their trailblazing debut LP, elevated as it is by some of Julian’s sharpest and most defiant sets of lyrics to date (“They will blame us, crucify and shame us / We can’t help it if we are a problem / We are tryin’ hard to get your attention / I’m climbin’ up your wall“), and complete with a refreshing recording-fading into organic live Shangri-La studio bantering, wonderfully liaising with the following smooth downtempo slice and Angles-relative “Selfless” at number two on the nine-joint tracklist. A similar “keep it rolling, all-systems-go on air” live session feel permeates both the last ten seconds of the above mentioned “Bad Decisions” as well as big anthemic curtain puller “Ode to the Mets“, where Julian’s baritone crooning straying from his vocal flow and demanding “Drums, please, Fab” at 1:40 legit sounds just like history in the making. Apropos the latter discordant and angst-filled stunner, one can’t but notice a pretty uncanny melodic reminiscence between the song’s outro vocal and guitar licks and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)“—could it be that it flowing under the crediting radar might have anything to do with the share of royalties demanded by the Lennon & Ono estates?

Sequenced at number seven and eight on the tracklist respectively, both “Why Are Sundays So Depressing“—highlighted by its underwater and suffocated-gated guitar and vocal choruses interwoven by strident and scorching six-string passages throughout—and “Not The Same Anymore“—this being the best example of the band’s inexplicable ability to turn trivial guitar riffs I could myself come up with within a few minutes of impromptu jamming into transcendental modern rock classics—make for absolutely decent and regular Strokes jams, however it’s the six-minute aphrodisiac elixir “Eternal Summer” splitting the album in two that will have people talk in spades for ever. Not necessarily a standout in terms of runtime per se, considering that as much as more than half the songs on The New Abnormal pass the five-minute mark (!), this is arguably going to be the diamond in the rough that folks will look back to as distilling the unequivocal ultimate Strokes sound. Easily amongst the best tunes the group has ever written at its core, the track makes smart and creative use of a host of quintessential Strokes trademarks in order to elevate the final mix to a spine-chilling, mind-numbing washed out haze of pure spiritual alignment and bliss. This joint’s production is exactly why Rick Rubin is the highest paid producer in popular rock music.

Take the ostensibly innocuous ad-lib “This, and I never let it happen / Hey, yeah, oh / Hey, yeah, oh” grindingly cutting through the sea of layered electric guitars and synths just ten seconds into the song: it’s classic Strokes. Another case in point, consider Julian’s biting, blistering, and dreamy falsetto during the song’s verses and pre-choruses: it’s classic Strokes. Zero in on the menacing and distorted vocal shouts in its mystical refrain, “I can’t believe it / This is the eleventh hour / Psychedelic / Life is such a funny journey / Hercules, your silence is no longer needed / It’s just like make-believe“: it’s classic Strokes. Bask in the galloping and subaltern melodic hook of its subsequent post-chorus, “They got the remedy / But they won’t let it happen / Yeah, they got the remedy / But they won’t let it happen“: it’s classic Strokes. Relinquish your moral compass to the hypnotic, hammering, and distorted first half of the tune’s outro, before reaching unmediated enlightenment thanks to the solar chopped and screwed telephone fading at the tail end of six minutes that flow by in a way that’s hard to explain: it’s classic Strokes. The New Abnormal: it’s classic Strokes.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

THE STROKES

THE NEW ABNORMAL

2020, RCA Records

https://www.thestrokes.com

strokes-new abnormal

Screenshot 2020-04-11 at 12.34.19

ORANGE | 2020-01-01

   A hand to touch
   A fit, to mask or shake just what
   It is January or not
Time splinters off in a drool well
It rains or it stops raining
A sink clogs or it stops draining
The mask falls off
   A new bouquet swells
   A sneeze lets loose
In the house the animals stir
The print on the couch dwells
It lets go of its color
And the light fades
   What color is that?
   What moment is that?
   What figure is drawn?
   On what eyes?
   A child yawns
   A seat on the bus is closed
This light, This year, This hour
It multiplies itself by the word
It goes soup on the bowl
And the bowl draws near
Its color revealed
   A kind sleep
   A hellish dream
   On my skin that sun goes orange
   And I burn myself
   And my eyes cave in
This horror of time clicks my heels
It laughs that laugh of cruel poses
Our dreams are not our collective
But submission is easier
When we pretend this together
   A fantasy a clock
   A hand designs hour not hands
   A minute exposes cracks
   A time forgets us
   A stop
   My eyes hurt
   It is too much
   Orange

© This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Words by Ryan Adams.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

RyanAdams_Orange

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THE HELLA MEGA ALBUM REVIEW—3eb, JIMMY EAT WORLD, REFUSED | 2019-10-20

Rock and roll is dead, they say. Perished and gone past any point of salvation; de facto disappeared from the limelight. It’s undergoing a fundamental identity crisis, they allege, which started just at the turn of the the twenty-first century’s inaugural decade and slowly caused its vanishing from the charts, after nu-metal, emo, and garage indie guitar bozos kept it afloat on life support in the early noughties. Fast forward to the approaching sunset of another decade, and rock is blatantly accused of exercising virtually no more influence on popular creative culture. But then—quite ironically—a quick superficial scrutiny of today’s most successful hip-hop (read: mainstream) artists would be all it takes to denote how so-called faux cutting edge and avant-garde rappers and MCs do little more than lifting inherent and eroded rock staples. This manifests in both the artistic and fashion sense, beginning with the gentrified appropriation of industrial palm muted guitar-led walls of sound atop which they oughta spit out bars in pockets, a wide variety of emo sounds and aesthetics, as well as death metal iconography and design statements on their attires.

Then—as if by a divine intervention of sorts—Friday 18th October 2019 came along and flushed away any residual breadcrumbs of doubt as to whether rock and roll and ancillary alternative music were still to have a seat at the mainstream culture table. Most likely unbeknownst to one another, although the potential irony of this being a coordinated effort wouldn’t be lost on me (and yet this might suggest otherwise…), three monumental and highly influential bands repping the penultimate heyday wave of rock dominating charts and radio happened to release their latest studio albums on said same glorious date. Stephan Jenkins-masterminded California rock outfit Third Eye Blind, alt-emo veterans Jimmy Eat World, and Swedish iconic post-hardcore trailblazers Refused all dropped their highly-anticipated sixth, tenth, and fifth studio LP respectively on this proud mid-October Friday. This occurred much to the surprise of focus group-affine taste making gatekeepers, who thought that rock’s highest moments today ought to be confined to Guitar Hero and regional redneck fairs. One single listen to each record is enough to confirm that these three groups have never sounded tighter and more cohesive, notwithstanding that they’re all steadily embarked onto their third decade as bands.

Let us begin with Third Eye Blind (3eb), who return the favour to emo-rappers and genre appropriators by turning heads with a straight up tongue-in-cheek trap number at number ten on their new LP Screamer’s tracklist. In doing so, “2X Tigers” accomplishes what most generic trap beats can’t, in measuring out just the right amounts of rattling hi-hats, 808s, autotune, and lyrical razzmatazz. Overall, 3eb’s new joint is a generous 40-minute, 12-track outing helmed by carefully doctored synthetic atmospheres and soundscapes, employing trademark subaltern vocal deliveries by flamboyant frontman Jenkins, coupled with real pedestrian relatable storytelling. Carefree and lighthearted slow-burners such as “Ways“, sophomore single “Walk Like Kings“, and “Who Am I” stand to indicate that the record flows by sans the dirt and aggression off their early late-nineties projects, although Screamer’s stunning lead single slash title track, followed by the grassroots anthemic punk/rocker “The Kids Are Coming” prove that the San Francisco quintet hasn’t lost its bite and attack over time.

Recruiting the Smashing Pumpkins‘ Billy Corgan as ‘musical consigliere‘ throughout the creative process certainly helped safeguarding a certain degree of weirdness and experimentation being factored in, too. This shows brightly on a few cuts on here, such as the EDM-infused “Tropic Scorpio“, as well as power-pop oddity “Got So High“, with the latter disclosing the inherent clue in its title right out of the gate, alas supplying cringeworthy lyrics and a pointless beat switch-turned-outro (“So I walked down on Tavern Riaz / I watched a movie starring Cameron Diaz / I got a guitar amp that’s louder than Jesus“). One might also wonder whether the self-indulgent custom Pac Man-esque listening video game launched as promo for the full length is to be traced back to a studio banter with Mr Corgan, though perhaps this stone is best kept unturned. All in all, Screamer finds 3eb delivering a powerful and assertive statement of eternal raging youth, sparkled with drops of hope, courage, and desire for bold change. Front to back, the album plays as slick and smooth as butter, and is wrapped up by one of the most earnest and delicate songs Jenkins must’ve penned in a long while (“Well they smashed us but well / We found our feet and found our voice / Now we give ’em all hell / And now they’re gone“). All killers, no fillers.

On Surviving, Jimmy Eat World on their part choose to tap into crisp, clean cut, yet larger-than-life sounds, haphazardly flirting with their 2007 Chase This Light sonic moodboard, making Surviving its spiritual successor. This comes with big choruses and thick guitars, immediately proven guilty as charged by opener combo “Surviving” and “Criminal Energy“. These are two of the punchiest, fiercest, and most unhinged songs to come out of their repertoire in more than ten years. However, the Arizonans make sure to reassure us they haven’t lost their knack for distilled melancholic melodies on follow up track “Delivery“, a stomping and tremolo-ed heart-on-sleeve emotional journey doubling as the natural—slightly more seasoned—hybrid between “Always Be” and “Firefight” off their aforementioned superior 2007 milestone. Elsewhere, Jim Adkins and co. kill two birds with one stone when they repurpose and remaster last year’s excellent standalone power chords-bonanza single “Love Never“, lending the hammering late capitalism anti-hero anthem a needed production re-tooling that helps better singling out the song’s urgency: “It’s gonna seem so far / It’s gonna feel so hard / Until you want the work more than the reward / Do you want the work more than the reward?”.

Together with “Surviving”, “Criminal Energy”, and “Love Never”, cuts like “One Mil“, “Diamond“, and epic 6-minute closer “Congratulations” reinforce the inherent heaviness of this project, without much concerns related to overdoing palm muting and/or distortion. Ever the subtle and refined writer, on this album Adkins also manages to sculpt one of Jimmy Eat World’s most singular and counter-intuitive works with the airy and celestial 80s drum machine galore “555“, a superlatively cathartic moment moonlighting as second single in promotion to the record. Speaking of singles, Surviving’s chosen flagship one (“All The Way“) is unfortunately the dullest and flattest chapter on here, coming across too sterilised and formulaic for anyone even remotely familiar with the Mesa, AZ band’s past output. That said, this new half hour and change procured to us by the alternative rockers sweeps by like a spinning rush of watertight loud rock, topping Jimmy Eat World’s more recent efforts (2016’s Integrity Blues and 2013’s Damage) on both the songwriting and sonic delivery front.

Hailing from the apparent idyllic paradise of Sweden and responsible for one of the mightiest watershed moments in the experimental post-hardcore scene, Refused are no strangers to leaving evident battered marks in the ground they cover. Tallying up just their fifth studio album to date in nearly thirty years as a band, the modern punk stalwarts have had to put up with a ‘too big to fail’ legacy that might or might have not prompted their 2014 reunion—after abruptly calling it quits in 1998 at their highest career peak. With their newest studio full length War Music, which follows up on their softer and dividing fourth LP Freedom in 2015, the Swedish woke and socially-conscious quartet choose to revert back to flat out in-your-face meat and potatoes mannerisms. Cases in point, the skin-crawling, spine-bending incendiary lead single “Blood Red“—a manifesto to holding up to one’s ethics and ideals from cradle to grave—and the violent bona fide hardcore throwback “Turn The Cross“. Perhaps unsurprisingly in this saturated and overproduced musical zeitgeist filled with loudness wars, the Dennis Lyxzén-fronted project generally opts for peeling back a few layers and marry stripped back, extremely raw and rebellious sonic contours, albeit not always so spotlessly.

Soul-punk and groove-distributor “REV001” works flawlessly as sonic baptism to the whole shebang, even though its efficacy can’t be reprised as seamlessly by its follow up on the tracklist (“Violent Reaction“), the latter resounding too tired and thin-stretched. Meanwhile, the album’s inflammatory closing set of overtly alienated socio-political statements (“Death In Vännäs“, “The Infamous Left“, and “Economy of Death“) vehemently address neo-liberal gimmicks, diminishing returns, thought leadership apathy and jadedness. Stuffed in the middle of this 10-track dissenting capitalist opera is a host of straightforward and true blue Refused playbook material (“I Wanna Watch The World Burn“), math rock riffing aggression galore (“Damaged III“), and exquisite foreboding marching potency (“Malfire“), with the latter track culminating in a witty and excruciatingly harrowing take on contemporary population management issues: “They came in boats, they came on land / Alone and scared with empty hands / The founding thought, come if you can / Your tired, poor, your huddled mass / In grand old eyes, a life reviled / Becomes a threat, a parasite“. Another solid, trustworthy, and long-overdue check-in from a band that has and will continue to make important waves in the current unenlightened climate.

This should suffice, though if the above supporting evidence isn’t enough, be my guest and throw in the following exhibits to counterclaim the assertion that alternative rock is no longer alive and well. These were all released within the last few months: Sam Fender’s Hypersonic Missiles, Puddle of Mudd‘s Welcome to Galvania, and blink-182‘s NINE. We love rock and roll, so put another dime in the jukebox, baby…

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

THIRD EYE BLIND

SCREAMER

2019, Mega Collider Records

https://www.thirdeyeblind.com

third-eye-blind-screamer

JIMMY EAT WORLD

SURVIVING

2019, Exotic Location Recordings/RCA Records

https://www.jimmyeatworld.com

JEW_Surviving

REFUSED

WAR MUSIC

2019, Spinefarm Records/Universal Music

https://www.officialrefused.com

Refused_WarMusic